How a life-altering accident changed the Rockwell family forever

Serenity in simplicity

Truman Rockwell. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Truman Rockwell. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Truman Rockwell’s warmth radiates from within him. He is limited with his words, but immediate with his smile. He follows it up with the universal hand sign for “rock on,” or “hang ten” or “peace” or “I love you.”

“There are no down days,” says his mother Therese Rockwell, a longtime Lake Highlands hair stylist.

She knows every day with Truman is a blessing, a gift she wasn’t always sure she would have.

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Just months after he graduated alongside Lake Highlands High School’s class of 2007, Truman was a freshman at North Texas University when he was hit by a BMW while skateboarding. The driver was fiddling with his radio and didn’t see Truman crossing the street. An emergency helicopter flew him to Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth with a traumatic brain injury. Therese was at her job at Artistik Edge when she got the call.

“He was in a coma for over three solid months,” she says. “No one could tell us anything, if he’d wake up, we had no idea.”

Specifically, Truman suffered what’s known as a severe diffuse axonal injury, which interrupts the brain’s ability to communicate via neurons. Brain cells begin to die, causing the organ to swell. Around 90 percent of those who suffer this degree of brain damage never regain consciousness, and those who do are forever altered.

“It’s the exact same thing as shaken baby syndrome,” Therese explains.

After months of not knowing, Truman began to show signs of healing. He opened one eye, then the other. He moved a finger. It was painfully slow, but it was progress.

“It’s not like in the movies where someone in a coma suddenly wakes up,” Therese says. “Nothing was sudden.”

After a full year in the hospital and rehab centers, Truman was still unable to talk and forever bound to a wheelchair, but allowed to go home. His family gave him a squeaky dog toy to signal when he needed something. Everyone struggled to find a new normal.

Truman Rockwell's artwork lines his Brentgate Drive studio. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Truman Rockwell’s artwork lines his Brentgate Drive studio. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Truman was prone to fits of anger, understandable considering his loss of independence. It took months before doctors determined the right mix of pills to quiet his anxious mind.

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“It’s called drug therapy for a reason,” Therese says.

It was a stark change for her easygoing artist. As a child, Truman was quick to pick up a pencil or paint brush. He showed talent early, both in photorealism and abstract designs, with a flair for color and black-and-white designs. He won the Audelia Road Library Art Show, something he’s quick to dismiss by saying, “That thing is not a big deal.” He’s most inspired by surrealist painter Salvador Dali.

“I’m not quite as good as Dali,” he jokes.

His brother, Hart, who’s three years younger to the day, is also an artist, although his medium of choice is a video camera. When they were teens, Hart filmed Truman’s skateboarding as he ollied and kickflipped his way across shopping center parking lots.

More recently, the videos show Truman’s current reality. The pair jump on DART and head downtown, or circle White Rock Lake. Hart captures footage of his brother’s effortless smile, and sets it to uplifting indie rock. It’s a celebration of how far they’ve all come.

“DART is life,” Truman declares. “I love downtown.”

Truman’s sense of adventure never dwindled. His brother is currently hiking the Te Araroa Trail, a more than 1,800-mile trek across New Zealand. “I don’t know why I’m not out with him,” Truman quips.

The family now revels in the life’s little joys. A road trip together. A favorite Modest Mouse or Radiohead song. A visit to the library.

“The simplicity of his life can be inspiring,” Therese says.

Therese Rockwell with her son, Truman. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)
Therese Rockwell with her son, Truman. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

She hopes to take that inspiration and help other families dealing with traumatic brain injuries. She’s amassed a slew of knowledge in managing Medicaid and caring for a recently disabled loved one, and hopes to make the transition easier for another family in need.

“Even through tragedy comes blessings,” Therese says.

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See Hart Rockwell’s videos of Truman below:

“The Truman Move,” 2016

“For Truman,” 2007

“Truman’s Skate Video”

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